Turkey held local elections on March 31. The ruling AKP, or Truth and Justice Party, lost seats across the country, to both the secular nationalist CHP, or Republican People’s Party and the Pro-Kurdish HDP, or People’s Democratic Party. The CHP claimed victory in the capital Ankara, Izmir, and Istanbul, where its mayoral candidate Ekrem İmamoğlu won a close race by less than 0.2% of the vote and was sworn in as mayor on April 17. The AKP, however, has filed complaints with the country’s high election board alleging irregularities at polling places and challenged the election results in Istanbul and Ankara, with Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan calling for an annulment, and the board has decided to order a rerun of the mayoral election in Istanbul on June 23.
The decision sparked outrage both in opposition parties and within the AKP’s own leadership, as a former president, Abdullah Gül, and a former prime minister, Ahmet Davutoğlu both criticized the decision, with Davutoğlu saying in a tweet that it had harmed the “basic values” of Turkey’s democracy — that voters had the final word at the ballot box. Separately, in the country’s southeast, which is home to the majority of its Kurdish population, several victorious mayoral candidates of the HDP were denied office by the election council on the grounds that they had previously been dismissed from office during the state of emergency that followed Turkey’s 2015 coup attempt. Following their inability to assume office, the second-place candidates, largely members of the AKP, were sworn in and assumed their mandates. The HDP has appealed the decision to the country’s constitutional court. Joining us to unpack what both of these decisions mean for Turkish democracy is Istanbul-based independent journalist Ayla Jean Yackley, who has reported on Turkey for nearly two decades.